Your hearing can be harmed by a loud workplace and it can also impact your concentration. The health of your hearing can be negatively impacted by even modest noise levels if you’re exposed to it for several hours every day. This is why questions like “what hearing protection should I use?” are worth asking.
Most of us probably didn’t even know there were multiple levels of hearing protection. But it makes sense when you stop to think about it. A jet engine mechanic is going to need a different level of protection than a truck driver.
Levels of Hearing Damage
The fact that 85dB of sound can start to harm your ears is a basic rule of thumb. Putting sound into context with regards to its decibel level and how harmful it is, isn’t something the majority of us are used to doing.
When you’re sitting in your car in city traffic, that’s around 85 decibels. No biggie, right? Actually, it’s fairly significant. At least, it’s a biggie after eight hours. Because it isn’t just the loudness of the noise that you need to pay attention to, it’s how long you’re exposed.
Typical Danger Zones
If you’re exposed to 85 dB of noise for eight hours a day or more, you should probably consider wearing hearing protection. But that’s not the only threshold you need to be aware of. If you’re exposed to:
- 90 dB (e.g., lawnmower): Anything above four hours is considered harmful to your ears.
- 100 dB (e.g., power tools): Your ears will be damaged when exposed to this level of noise for 1 hour a day.
- 110 dB (e.g., leaf blower): Damage to your hearing occurs after 15 minutes of exposure to this noise level.
- 120 dB (e.g., rock concert): If you are exposed to this level of noise for any amount of time, your hearing can be harmed.
- 140 dB (e.g., jet engine): Any exposure can lead to damage and could even cause immediate pain.
When you are going to be exposed to these volumes of sound, use hearing protection that will bring the volume in your ears down below 85 dB.
Make Sure Your Hearing Protection Fits Comfortably
The effectiveness of ear protection is measured by something called a Noise Reduction Rate, or NRR. The outside world will become progressively quieter the higher the NRR.
It’s really important that you choose hearing protection with a high enough NRR to effectively protect your hearing (and your workplace will usually make guidelines about what level might be appropriate).
But there’s another factor to think about as well: comfort. It’s very important that your hearing protection is comfortable to wear if you want to keep your hearing safe. This is because you’re not as likely to actually use your hearing protection if it’s uncomfortable.
What Are my Hearing Protection Choices?
There Are Basically Three Options:
- Earplugs that sit within the ear canal
- Earplugs that stay just outside of the ear canal.
Each form of protection has advantages and disadvantages, but personal preference is often the deciding factor. Earmuffs are the best option for individuals whose ears are irritated by earplugs. For other people, the ability to put earplugs in and leave them in is a better solution (of course, at the end of the workday you will need to take them out for a good cleaning).
Consistently Use Protection That Works Best For You
Any laps in your hearing protection can result in damage, so comfort is an important factor. If earmuffs are scratchy and uncomfortable you’re more likely to remove them for short periods and that can have a negative impact on your hearing over time. So the most important decision you can make is to choose hearing protection that you’re comfortable leaving in place during your workday.
You’re ears will remain healthier and happier if you choose the right degree of hearing protection for your situation.